Invasive ‘Eco-Austerity’ Algorithms: A Horrible Green Dream

Digital algorithms are becoming pervasive. In a moment of reflection on them a dystopian scenario of the future occurred to me. In this future, ‘life’ will have been further converted into transactions. There is a tendency in capitalism to already think of any relation between things as a transactional exchange. Algorithmic capitalism increases this in its digitalisation of a relationship as a transmission or transactional exchange through a conduit.

In this transactional future the ‘environmental costs’ of any given transaction, from opening the tap in your home to going on holiday will be integrated into pervasive and invasive algorithms that monitor these transactions.

These algorithms will themselves be integrated into and reproduce surveillance capitalism. According to Zuboff (2019) surveillance capitalism is the radical new iteration of capitalism. It is the mining of your behavioural surplus through capitalist platforms like Google and Facebook to redirect your behaviour. As she notes, you are not primarily the user or product of surveillance capitalism. Instead your behaviour is the raw material.

In places like China this will be part of their already expanding social ‘algorithmic’ credit system enforced upon the individual i.e. if you are not conforming to the environmental costs you are allocated you are forcefully limited from participating in life e.g. you cannot use transport.

Whereas in places like the ‘liberal democracy’ of the UK ‘we don’t act in such ways, we have freedom of choice’. Instead it will be based on passing the cost onto consumers, whereby they would only be able to afford products that can perform well in algorithmically assessed environmental cost calculations, so you still have the choice to pick between 3 multinationals (that all happen to be owned by the same hedge funds).

Any business that cannot burden the cost of participating in the awesome administrative costs of these algorithmic environmental programmes is null and void.

For example, this monopolisation of environmental use was already pioneered by the EU. Take Romania: When it joined the EU such monolithic and stringent administration was imposed on milk production that all the local dairy farmers could not participate and a few big conglomerates ate them all up, simply because these conglomerates could bear the administrative cost of performing ideas of environmental protection. It was an example of how ‘health and safety’ was pioneered as ‘environmental health and safety’, so that these harsh regime changes could be sold as ‘for your benefit’ i.e. a coercive performance of care.

In addition to any business that cannot burden the cost of participating in the awesome administrative costs of these algorithmic environmental programmes being wiped out, a whole side business will boom where rich elites pay plebeians to offset their costs through personal austerity.

As we already know this is used to force people in ‘developing’ countries to either freeze their land-use in time or step back and let it be redeveloped as new mono-cropped carbon capture landscapes.

Effectively a shallow yet manic response to climate change, as well as the increasing disasters brought by the effects of climate breakdown, will force those with power to ‘do something’.

This is where Google et. al. will step in with their success in the mining of behavioural surplus and claims to changing behaviour, to show that they can change behaviour en-masse so we don’t ‘ruin’ the planet.

In fact it will be an administrative performance of addressing climate change. It will be a means for the State and Corporations to demonstrate that they are doing something on the one hand, whilst increasingly offsetting the cost onto the masses, in addition to justifying far reaching coercive measures.

It will be a massively invasive funnelling of ‘users’ lives toward the endeavours of those with the biggest Ad budget. Or as time goes on and automated resource extraction expands, we will become surplus that needs managing.

Like a human disease. When the masses are not needed, the imposition of austerity via surveillance capitalism is this means of management, so that the elite can keep consuming in even more epic proportions than they already do.

This behavioural management complex will combine with right-wing (that includes neoliberalism) political forces who will hoist this new hyper-powerful harness upon us all.

It will mean population control in every way conceivable; from the apartheid of tighter borders, to social and material control of one’s personal life all framed in liberal democracies as ‘choice’.

As an expert in the alt-right notes, ‘ecofascism’ is the next big thing on the right. Here ecofacism will be population control in all ways imaginable, but commodified as choice and delivered as eco-austerity.

Whats most frightening is not just on the political right, but also amongst large elements of the climate movement this would be recognised as change in aid of addressing climate breakdown: a utopia. Whereas in fact it’s a continuation, of what already is.

The irony of all this is that as someone intimately familiar with what certain environmental, offsetting and carbon reducing practices mean, this will not in anyway, not on jot, address climate breakdown, but continue to accelerate it.

Because climate breakdown is at its heart an issue of sexual, racial and class injustice. Not because ‘addressing these would be great’ as some nice add-on to addressing climate change. But because these injustices are the very heart of why we have climate breakdown.

In sum, a future scenario in which our behavioural surplus is mined to perform green austerity and population control, so the elite can maintain growth in their consumption. This is not a predictive scenario but a potential scenario.